NRA: Roll, Jordan, roll

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 189-190

We mentioned earlier that there are two things here in Chapter 10 that grab the reader and hurl them forcibly out of the story. These aren’t just the sort of thing that makes readers demand their money back, they’re the sort of thing that makes readers want their money back, plus extra compensation for pain and suffering and punitive damages. Here is the second such thing in Chapter 10.

Buck Williams is in a cab below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem:

“Can a fella get a boat ride up the Jordan River into Lake Tiberius at this time of night?” he asked the driver.

“Well, sir, to tell you the truth, it’s a lot easier coming the other way. But, yes, there are motorized boats heading north. And some do run in the night. Of course, your touring boats are daytime affairs, but there’s always someone who will take you where you want to go for the right price, any time of the day or night.”

“I figured that,” Buck said. Not long later he was dickering with a boatman named Michael, who refused to give a last name. “In the daytime I can carry 20 tourists on this rig, and four strong young men and I pilot it by arm power, if you know what I mean.”


“Yes, sir, just like in the Bible. Boat’s made of wood. We cover the twin outboards with wood and burlap, and no one’s the wiser. Makes for a pretty long, tiring day. But when we have to go back upriver, we can’t do that with the oars.”

It was only Michael, the twin outboards, and Buck heading north after midnight, but Buck felt as if he had paid for 20 tourists and four oarsmen as well.

Buck began the trip standing in the bow and letting the crisp air race through his hair. He soon had to zip his leather jacket to the neck and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. Before long he was back next to Michael, who piloted the long, rustic, wood boat from just ahead of the outboard motors. Few other crafts were on the Jordan that night.

I’m sub-contracting the response to this passage to Israeli journalist and writer Gershom Gorenberg. This is from Gorenberg’s terrific book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. Goremberg describes his attempt to read Nicolae while on vacation:

My son and I are stretched out in a hammock between two trees in the backyard of the country house where we like to vacation. It’s in the hills of the Galilee, away from the noise and exhaust of Jerusalem; from the yard we can see the town of Tiberias and all of Lake Kinneret — the Sea of Galilee — shimmering blue and the Golan Heights rising dark and green behind it. My 10-year-old son is reading The Phantom Tollbooth yet again and giggles occasionally. I’m reading Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. And suddenly I start laughing harder than my son, which I’m not supposed to do in the middle of a thriller about the end of the world, complete with nuclear war and famine and plague, and he wants to know what’s funny, so I read him the paragraph where world-renowned journalist Buck Williams, in Jerusalem on a secret mission, learns that “he would find who he was looking for in Galilee, which didn’t really exist anymore,” a geographical point he repeats for emphasis two pages later.

“Dad, if the Galilee doesn’t exist, where are we?” my son asks.

“Maybe we don’t exist either.”

A couple minutes later I’m giggling again: Now Buck has decided to make the three-hour journey to “Tiberius” (sic) by boat — one of the many touring boats that, in the book, ply the Jordan River. Which would be fine if the Jordan were really “deep and wide,” as the song goes, but in reality it’s a narrow trickle not fit for navigating.

The experience is jarring, like meeting someone who calls you by your name, insists he knows you, remembers you from a high school you didn’t attend, a job you never had. I’m reading a book set largely in the country where I live — but not really, because the authors’ Israel is a landscape of their imagination, and the characters called “Jews” might as well be named hobbits or warlocks. Israel and Jews are central to Nicolae and the other books of the hugely successful Left Behind series — but the country belongs to the map of a Christian myth; the people speak lines from a script foreign to flesh-and-blood Jews.

We could say more about this extravagantly awful scene in Nicolae. We could talk about how the whole business about “oars … just like in the Bible” seems to be a long way to go for a belabored “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” pun, and how the Bible really doesn’t say much of anything about “oars” anyway. We could goggle at the botched cliché of Buck standing in the bow, the wind whipping his hair like he was Leo and/or Kate in Titanic. But all of that pales in comparison to the overriding, overwhelming wrongness Gorenberg mocks in this passage and to what he says it reveals about the jarringly untrue and unreal “landscape of their imagination” the authors present here and throughout these books.

That landscape is Bible-ish — rowing boats on the Jordan River is something that someone who has never read the Bible might think is in there. (It’s not.) But it’s as foreign to and incompatible with the Bible as it is with the actual landscape of Israel and the actual reality of “flesh-and-blood Jews.”

This sort of thing is especially incredible since Tim LaHaye has been to Israel and has seen the Jordan River with his own two eyes. Like most preachers in the “Bible prophecy scholar” racket, LaHaye has conducted “Holy Land tours,” taking groups of his American, RTC followers over to Israel and the West Bank to “walk where Jesus walked” and — more importantly for these “prophecy” tours — to gaze at the valley of Megiddo and to snarl disapprovingly at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

The itinerary for one of LaHaye’s “Pray for Israel” tours in 2010 (“Only $3999 all inclusive“) includes a stop at Yardenit, a pilgrimage site for millions seeking to be baptized in the Jordan. Yardenit — a place scholars wish tour guides would stop lying about being “the actual site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist” — is, like much of the Holy Land, part sacred pilgrimage site and part money-grubbing tourist trap. The site is just below the dam separating Lake Kinneret from the river — a dam that would make Buck’s journey impossible even apart from the laughable idea of navigating the shallow trickle of the Jordan.

I don’t know if Jerry Jenkins ever visited Israel before writing Nicolae, so for him the “landscape of the imagination” it presents may just be the product of ignorance and laziness. But for LaHaye, who’d been to the Jordan River and seen it with his own eyes, something more than ignorance had to be at work in his “co-writing” of this fantastic, unreal landscape. He has walked in this world without ever seeing it, preferring instead to see the world of his own ideology, of his own imagining, of his own preference.

The scary thing there isn’t that this one man has retreated into a delusional fantasy. The scary thing is that millions of people are eagerly following him there.

For those who live in this landscape of the imagination, the real world doesn’t really exist anymore.

And if the real world doesn’t exist, what about the rest of us who still live here? Where are we? “Maybe we don’t exist either.”


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  • The world’s heaviest secret handshake?

  • Wednesday

    In the hands of a better writer, I would assume the mention of the motors was because they’re so loud. Of course, in the hands of a better writer, I’d also expect it to be followed up by something describing the sound and feel of the experience. Eg,

    “It was only Michael, the twin outboards, and Buck heading north after midnight, but Buck felt as if he had paid for 20 tourists and four oarsmen as well. Without the comforting sounds of cities to muffle them, the splash of the river and the roar of the motor dominated, the latter sending a rattling through his bones all the way up to his teeth. He felt exposed, conspicuous — with all the noise they were making, surely the Antichrist’s forces should be able to find them with their eyes closed. The empty river didn’t help — they were alone under the wide expanse of starry sky, without the shelter of city skyline and comforting solidity of concrete-and-steel walls.”

  • Sue White

    Geez, all he needs now is a cookie phone. If there is such a thing.

  • nemryn

    I wish I could upvote this seven times.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Wow. I never heard of the Bolton Strid before reading your comment, but now that I’ve looked it up, that thing is terrifying.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I feel your pain, because I’ve had pretty much the same experience.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    But so well.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    And peacocks in central New Jersey, though they’re not wild – I don’t know how much shelter they need over the winter.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Then he could properly pronounce the alphabetic list of UN member countries very, very rapidly. And in tune.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Oh, good grief! Irene is already the “little woman” servicing her man. [facepalm]

  • J_Enigma32

    A cursory glance reveals the tourists mentioned in passing to be the smartest people in the book to appear by a wide margin.


    Clearly they’ve read the book jacket, realized Israel is a good place to be, and beat feet to the only country that wouldn’t be getting nuked. Gotta give them props for that.

  • Original Lee

    Twain didn’t just work on a riverboat. IIRC, he was a riverboat *captain* for several years, the closest thing to being a king of the Mississippi River there was at the time. He had to memorize the geography and weather of the whole river, so he had an intimate knowledge of how wind and water were supposed to interact.

  • aunursa

    You noticed.

    He thanked her. “You’re not having anything?”
    She shook her head. “Not hungry. Just thought you might be.”
    Ray was struck not only by Irene’s thoughtfulness and selflessness but also by the realization that this was something Kitty had never done and — he believed — never would. She baby-talked him, manipulated him to get what she wanted — always rewarding him with squeals of delight. But cater to him and his needs, show sensitivity or even awareness of his preferences? Simply not part of the equation.

    The Rising, pp 298-299

  • AnonaMiss

    Oh dear fucking FSM.

    Tangent: after work I must look for images of the FSM in accordance with rule 34.

  • j_bird

    Thank you for (among all the other wondrous things in that snippet) pointing out the oddness of Buck demanding to know Michael’s last name. I mean, sometimes you just want a nice, anonymous dickering.

  • aunursa

    Buck demands to know Michael’s last name, while in the prequel, Irene doesn’t appear to have a last name. Note that Michael’s last name is revealed near the end of Chapter 12, when he is out of the picture. As far as I can tell, Irene’s maiden name is never revealed.

  • Daniel

    Particularly if you’ve wandered down to the river bank late at night, all leather jacketed like late 80’s George Michael too. No names, no details, just a good, arm-powered, oar inspired dickering. All the way upstream.

  • Vermic

    Well, no wonder it was Jenkins’ favorite scene then, it was probably the easiest to write.

  • Generally you have to keep some kind of chain-of-ownership paperwork as proof of sale for Reasons. Up here in BC, generally you need to keep at least the registration to prove you scrapped a car instead of resold it into the consumer market.

  • J R Ward’s crappy vampire books nonetheless having a mass fanbase fill me with envy. It’s got ridiculously sexy vampires with dumb names and a Madonna*-mary sue with big tits who everybody wants to save.

    And to think it’s “hard” to break into the publishing industry!

    * as in the Madonna/Whore dichotomy.

  • The fact that Jenkins so blatantly gives Irene all the traits of the kind of archetypal woman-as-enemy so beloved of gender essentialists and their Mens-Rights-Activists fellow travellers is just unfreakinbelievable.

  • I tried to read Mein Kampf. It was the literary equivalent of a sleeping pill, I swear. I know I read the whole thing through at one point, but all the words just evaporated out of my brain.

    Whatever Hitler’s talents, being able to immortalize his words in print was not one of them.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    The Jordan is a DESERT river; I live in SoCal and am VERY familiar with the concept. At least the Jordan has SOME water in it year-round; in SoCal the rivers only have ANY water in them during rainy season (what you call “Winter”). When you get inland to the Mojave, you can only tell there’s a river there by the line of cottonwoods over the underground aquifer. THAT’s the Mojave River; water on the surface only after the flash floods.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    The scary thing about that, the truly scary thing, is that the rest of us, the rest of the human race that do not chhose this dangerously queer queerly dangerous walking fantasy, aren’t real to them either, we don’t exist execpt in the context that we constitute threats to their delusion and we must be destroyed.

    Reality must not be allowed to interfere with Correct Ideology.
    Comrade Pol Pot would agree. Ask any survivor of Cambodia’s Killing Fields how far Purity of Ideology can go. And has gone.

  • Newbiedoobiedoo

    Another fun fact: Twain is cited in the film “Deep Impact” by an older astronaut to the young hot dogs about why the old guy is aboard their fancy rocket. He’s a pilot, and because they trained on video games they’ve never done landings.

  • Daniel

    All that’s needed for terrible writers to succeed is that even worse writers do nothing. Not in my name:

    It was only a year after it began,
    That the UN welcomed Afghanistan
    Though reticence restrained ya,
    Eventually Albania
    Through Hoxa in ’55 said “Yes we can”

    Algeria would sign up in ’62
    and all the things they hoped they then could do
    May not have turned out as we hoped,
    But from Andorra came a vote
    Saying they could join a year after ’92

    It was in ’76 that we scored an Angola,
    At the time though there was no one in control-a
    A dreadful civil war went on
    But in 1981
    Like Cristobal Colon we signed up Antigua

    (Chorus of UN representatives: AND BARBADUA!)

    spoken: Now you’re getting it!

    Argentina joined up in ’45
    The same day Quisling ceased to be alive,
    When the Iron Curtain fell
    Armenia joined as well,
    Australia was there since the UN was contrived.

    I never knew Vienna before the war…
    With its Strauss, its Circle and its tor….te
    But given ten years to ignore
    All the things they’d done before
    (Because that’s what friends are for)
    Austria was welcomed to the fold!
    And in 1992 the wise men in Baku
    Brought Azerbaijan in from the cold!

    Spoken: Tired yet? ‘Cos now it’s the Bs!

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    It’s called “Idiot Conversation,” and is considered the CLUNKIEST form of exposition. Even clunkier than Exposition Info-dumps.
    And is the kind most used by our GCAAT after the major strategic blunder to tell the entire epic from only the POVs of the two Author Self-Inserts. Not just Idiot Conversation, but “AS-YOU-KNOW” Idiot Conversation over the phone.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Rivers and riverbeds DO make natural borders…

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Like LH&J didn’t include enough Unintentional Canonical Slashfic Setups?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I think that’s a bit of a stretch. A more likely explanation is that LaHaye simply didn’t care to look over what Jenkins wrote. Tim gave Jerry a plot outline where Buck was to go up to Lake Tiberias and left him to write the book and turn it in to the editor. Neither of them had ever been to Jerusalem, and Tim didn’t bother to look over the manuscript and see if it made sense.

    How does that differ from any other CELEBRITY with a ghostwriter?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    22 volume series:
    12 in the main series,
    1 sequel (set after The End — nice trick),
    3 prequels (The Antichrist Baby Picture trilogy),
    6 shared-universe novels (two trilogies) by third parties,
    total 22.
    (Not counting the 40-volume YA spinoff, the comics, the movies, and other derivatives.)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Buck Jenkins has demonstrated a tin ear for “See How Clever I Am?” character names before; why should this surprise you?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Do they wear white bib overalls and do “Dumb and Dumber” shtick like “Gabe & Mike” in the Creation Museum movie?
    And just think: We’re talking VALAR here, guys.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Dude, we’d all be better off reading My Little Pony fanfics.

  • The Old Maid

    Actually, it’s Caleb the angel, and (whether or not) Chloe gets shortened is in Volume 11. Michael appeared to Hattie in Volume 9 before she (whether or not) gets killed in Volume 9.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Make that Jimmy Cagney going “TOP OF THE WORLD, MA!” and you’ve got a deal.

  • Pops

    I’d have steam coming out of my ears right now if I actually gave a damn about the story.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Many fans have read the entire series several times. They’re so obsessed with the most minute details about the characters and the plot that they often express disappointment whenever there’s an indication that the film might differ from the book on even a minor point.

    Sounds like standard drooling fanboy obsession to me.
    (You should have seen the uproar when we found out Twilight Sparkle had a brother all along…)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    She has a name: OfRayford.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Five times on the first night (Michael Pearl)
    while throwing up from morning sickness (Cee Jay Mahaney, with a Humble chuckle)…

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    That just means Buck Jenkins didn’t make a consistency check. I’ve had a first-draft coat-of-arms go from two crossed swords to three and back to two in the length of a novella.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Somebody I know who read it and DID remember described it as a hyper-serious kook rant.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Followed by the armies of lawyers suing everybody and everything (except the Rich Out-of-Towners who hired them) for everything they’ve got. “SOMEBODY’S TO BLAME FOR LOSING MY HOUSE AND IT CAN’T BE MEEEEEEE!”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    When I was driving out to visit my retired parents near Laughlin, Nevada, I remember the road from Needles to Laughlin undulating like a sea serpent between blind summits (one of which was where Sam Kinnison got head-on’d) and arroyo bottoms with HUGE Flash Flood warning signs.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I come from Anchorage, Alaska, which has a very disturbing park preserving houses swept downhill during the 1964 quake, when the hillside clay deposits liquified. Today that hillside is the most expensive subdivision in the city. The view is great!

    Turnagain, right?
    “Thirty-foot tsunamis hammered Port Valdez,
    And seven blocks of Turnagain slid into the sea —
    It was Eight-Nine on the Richter Scale…”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    “The day sixteen feet of mud attacked L.A. …”
    — old Dr Demento song about Los Angeles mudslides

    And on the 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara, you can still see the scar where those packed sand cliffs (NOT sandstone!) cut loose a few years ago and buried half that older subdivision/village. As they were digging that one out, they discovered buried Model Ts from a similar slide back around World War One.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Buck Jenkins is from Chicago;
    obviously he has local area knowledge of Chi-town and nothing else.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    It’s called “As-You-Know” Idiot Conversation.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I still remember a scene in Stargate SG-1 where they put Area 51 in the forests around Vancouver instead of the sun’s anvil of the Nevada desert…

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I lived in Monrovia (near downtown) for about five years and remember seeing Monrovia Public Library in the background of (the original) “V” — with a burned-out five-pod shuttle in front of it.